Khirbet Qeiyafa and King David


At the same time the Hebrew people entered Israel under the leadership of Joshua (Yehoshua ben Nun) during the period 1200-1250 BCE, the Philistines established their presence in 5 central cities in Philistia – Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gaza, Ekron (Tel Mikna) 15 km northwest of here, and Gat (Tel Tzafit) 12 km west of our location. I will just point out without going into detail that although they lived in 5 central cities, this does not mean that the 5 cities existed at the same time.

Who are the Philistines? – they arrived to this region at the same time that Israelites crossed the desert from Egypt to Israel. They are part of a group of nation called Sea Peoples. They arrived from the region of Krete-Greece, an area that was known for the export of mercenaries, and this may also be the reason that the walking route of the Hebrew people in the desert during the exodus from Egypt to Canaan was on the east side and not the shorter route through the Mediterranean Sea coast, and this is in order to avoid fighting them since they were good warriors with advanced weapons, I refer to swords made of iron, as can be deduced from what is written in the book of Samuel.

The period: 1250 to 1000 BCE, is considered in the bible as the settlement period and the period of the judges – there is a constant friction between the Philistines and the residents of Judea, and our current location is very close to the ancient separation area between the Philistines and the Jewish settlements.

In terms of our location, we are just over a kilometer west of Khirbet Qeiyafa (the ruins of Qeiyafa). In front of us is Tel Azekah, which is described in the Bible and in extra-biblical sources, as one of the border cities of the Kingdom of Judah.

We are near the western gate of Khirbet Qeiyafa and before we knock on the gate’s door, a brief introduction on two topics:

The first, is King David’s period – it is customary to date it to the years 970-1010 BCE. The first important and currently the only non-biblical archaeological finding that mentions the name “House of David”, was discovered in Tel Dan on July 21, 1993, and is known as the Tel Dan inscription.

The 2nd topic is Carbon14. Like the other carbons, Carbon14 is assimilated by plants from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, and from the plants it passes to animals since they eat plants. This means that almost every organic substance has carbon-14. Its uniqueness compared to other isotopes of carbon, specifically Carbon 12 and Carbon 13, that while they are stable, carbon14 decays over time, and the fact is, that its decay rate is constant, that is, half of the substance is lost every 5,730 years. This means that by comparing the ratio between carbon14 and carbon12 in the atmosphere compared to the ratio between carbon14 and carbon12 in organic matter, the age of the sample can be deduced. The dating of this site was determined by 14 olive pits that were sent to Oxford for carbon14 testing, of which it was determined that 10 belong with great accuracy to the period 1020 – 980 BCE, to the time of King David.

See the massive wall that surrounds the top of the hill, 2-4 meters high, 700 meters long, it delimits an area of ​​23 dunams, approx. 6 acres, which is a medium-size city in biblical times. As a point of reference, the city of David in Jerusalem is 46 dunams, approx. 12 acres.

The gate’ threshold was installed from a single stone 3m long, 1m meter wide and 1m high, weighing 8 tons. A step was cut in the threshold that stopped the gate doors when closing in a straight line to allow the bolt to be closed.

See the drainage canals – drainage canals are known in the city gates during the kingdom’s period in Judea and Israel and the same here. The reason for the location of the drainage canals at the gates is the topographical location of the gates at a relatively low point in the city, so that those arriving at the city gate do not have to climb higher than necessary.

At the entrance to the city itself on both sides of the gate there are a total of 4 cells, this is the name used by the prophet Ezekiel. The cells were used by the guards for rest and storage. The area adjacent to the gate remains an open area, what you see here represents many gates at other sites. According to descriptions in the Bible, the gate served as the center of the city and various activities took place there such as the gathering of the elders of the city, trade, a court place, and also worship.

The common biblical phrase “at the city gate” or the phrase “gate street”, these expressions refer to the entire open area around the city gate. For more and in-depth information about the role of the gate, I invite you to watch the video “The Role of the Gate in the Biblical Period”. Here you can see the remains of buildings near the gates, but these are from the late Persian period.

Khirbet Qeiyafa is on one of the hills that closes the Elah Valley to the north. Around us are Tel Azekah (2 km to the west), Tel Sokho (2.5 km to the southeast) and Tel Yarmut at a distance of 2.5 km to the northeast.

Later on, from the southern gate we will see the Elah Valley where the main road that led from the coastal plain and the Judean Lowlands to the mountain area and its main cities: Jerusalem and Hebron. Another landmark, 10 km west of here is Tel Tzafit where Gat Philistia was located, which was a central and large royal city in the 9th and 10th centuries BCE.

A question I always try to answer: How many residents lived here and what did they do for a living? So probably hundreds. According to the perimeter of the wall and the distance between the fences, there is room for 100 fences, meaning at least 100 housing units along the wall. Regarding livelihood, it is likely that they engaged in agriculture and crafts for their livelihood. Trade that is mainly internal in the exchange of products (barter), and according to the seals of the storage jars that were found, then there was also administrative work here.

Agriculture work was based on local Mediterranean ingredients described in the Bible as “the seven species”. The crops of the fields consisted mainly of wheat and barley and various types of legumes: lentils, chickpeas, peas. Fruit trees included fig, pomegranate, vine and olive. This area is one of the most fertile areas in the country, which on the one hand allowed for diverse crops and on the other hand invited constant conflict between Philistines and the Israelites.

I am convinced that you are asking: how do we know that this is a Jewish site, because it could be a Philistine site, or a Canaanite one, one inhabited by peoples like the Hittites, the Jebusites, the Gershites, the Amorites, or the Gibeonites, and of course it could be a Judean site, that is, the inhabitants of the Kingdom of Judah. So the high probability that this is a Jewish site stems from several characteristics:

(a) The city is surrounded by a wall of “enclosures” that are incorporated as part of the rooms in the houses, a method that was discovered at 4 other sites all in the Kingdom of Judah: Beit Shemesh, Tel a-Netzba, Tel Marsim and Tel Sheva.

(b) Thousands of animal bones of goats, sheep and cattle were discovered yet no pig bones found unlike the presence of pig bones found at Philistine or Canaanite sites.

(c) We will find in almost every house a large clay bowl on which pastries are baked – it was not customary in Philistine sites.

(d) Philistine and Canaanite sites are characterized by a wealth of cult objects that include human and animal figures, not here. In other words, they fulfilled in practice the commandment of “You shall not make yourself a statue or any image” as stated in the book of Exodus chapter 20 verse 3.

The battel of David and Goliath occurred here in the Ela valley between Tel Azeka and Sokho. To describe what happened after David kills Goliath – see 1Samuel chapter 17 verse 52: “And the men of Israel and of Judah arose, and shouted, and pursued the Philistines, until thou comest to Gai, and to the gates of Ekron. And the wounded of the Philistines fell down by the way to Shaaraim, even unto Gath, and unto Ekron”.

We need to remind ourselves that Gat was destroyed at the end of the 9th century BCE by the Aramean king of Aram-Damascus, Hazael, and Ekron was destroyed in 603 BCE by the Babylonians, meaning that it is clear that whoever wrote this, had information about the existence of Gat and Ekron in the 10th and 9th centuries BCE, otherwise he would write about Ashdod and Ashkelon. I will only add that the city of Shaaraim is one of the cities of Judah according to the book of Joshua chapter 15, and its name appears after Sokho and Azekah.

To quote Prof. Yosef Garfinkel, who excavated the site together with Sa’ar Ganor and Prof. Michael Hazel, he writes as follows: ” Khirbet Qeiyafa is the biblical Shaaraim, and this is based on its location, its date and the meaning of its name (Shaaraim in Hebrew means 2 gates), exactly what this this city has: the western gate and the south gate”.

We are at the southern gate of Khirbet Qeiyafa facing the Elah Valley. A 1m high stone, tombstone, was discovered in the center of the southern western cell. This ritual phenomenon is perhaps linked to the biblical phrase “High places of the gates” or “Gates platforms”. Reference to the platforms of the gate appears in several places, for example in the Book of Kings 2, chapter 23, verse 8. This is a testimony to the demolition of the gate platforms at the entrance of the city gate in the days of King Josiah, yet I will not detail the reason for his action in this video. As I mentioned earlier, the site was destroyed a short time, probably few 10s of years after it was established.

The site was not inhabited again during the First Temple period, why? Since there are no signs of destruction or fire, it is most probably that the site was established due to the kingdom needs and was also abundant since the kingdom decided it’s not needed any more. So why was it established for the first place – a logical answer is for security reasons, on one hand the place here is not high and prominent compared to the surrounding area, on the other hand there is an excellent view of the whole area from here.

To conclude, there is urban planning here. Khirbet Qeiyafa present an urban concept that includes a wall of enclosures and dwellings adjacent to the wall. Hundreds of storage jars were found systematically marked by imprinting an identifying imprint on the handles, which indicates a regional administration. Other sites with similar characteristics are distinct settlements of the Kingdom of Judah. The conclusion is that this place is also part of the Kingdom of Judah. The dating of the site to the beginning of the 10th century BCE associates Khirbet Qeiyafa with the beginning of the royal period in Judah to the days of King David.
We reached the end, and as usual, a question for you: what is the name of the valley where we are. The answer will appear at the end of the video.

How to get there?

Information Sources

  1. Book: Footsteps of King David in the Valley of Elah, Authors: Yosef Garfinkel, Saar Ganor and Michael Hasel, Publisher: Miskal-Yedioth Ahronoth Books & Chemed Books
  2. Qadmoniot: Magazine for the Antiquities of Eretz-Israel and Bible Lands No. 141, Publisher: Israel Exploration Society Jerusalem
  3. Podcast: Chronicles - the Bible and the Ancient Near East. By: Dr. Ilan Abecasis

Mention in the Bible

  1. Ezekiel chapter 40 verse 7
  2. 1Samuel chapter 17 verse 52
  3. Joshua chapter 15 verse 35
  4. 2Kings chapter 23 verse 8

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